Qantas Airways has re-routed its flights over Iraq temporarily in reaction to fresh warnings from regulators in the US and France about the conflict-ridden nation’s airspace.
The airline’s two daily A380 flights on the Dubai-London route will instead fly over Iranian airspace as a precaution. While there are international sanctions against Iran, even US carriers are allowed to pay that nation for overflight fees and to land on its territory in an emergency situation.
A Qantas spokesman said safety was the airline’s first priority and it would continue to assess the situation and make any further changes it believed were prudent.
Qantas’ move comes a week after alliance partner Emirates said it would halt flights over Iraq amid reports the US was examining whether Islamic militants had obtained high-altitude surface-to-air missiles from Syria.
Emirates president Tim Clark said it would take a week to 10 days to change flight paths to routes over Iran or Saudi Arabia and Egypt. On Sunday, FlightRadar24 showed Emirates still had a few flights from Dubai to Europe over Iraqi territory. Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, British Airways and Turkish Airways were also continuing to use the route, although Air France, KLM and Lufthansa had ceased flying it.
Emirates is still offering flights to three cities in Iraq that pass over Iraqi airspace. However, US regulators have raised the minimum recommended altitude for flights passing over the nation to 9100 metres from a previous 6000m.
Qantas was flying over Iraq at an altitude of about 11,500m to 12,500m before it changed its flight paths. The switch to flying over Iran adds about five to 10 minutes to the time, requiring a small amount of additional fuel.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a BUK surface-to-air missile system last month when at 10,000m over eastern Ukraine. Its flight path was in compliance with all warnings about the region, although some airlines, such as British Airways and Air France, had been avoiding that airspace beforehand as a precaution.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation last week held an emergency high-level meeting with industry bodies to discuss the issue of flight paths. A high-level taskforce is expected to be formed this week and a meeting of nations will be held in February to discuss the taskforce’s recommendations.